Hajj 2004: A Journey of Self-Renewal and Hope

My mother was a teacher, Hafiz (memorized) and scholar of the Qur’an. It was through her that I learned to read, reflect on, and understand the Qur’an and to connect the dots that exist between the Qur’anic guidance, individual life and the complex world around us. Even though she died when I was fourteen, her devotion to the Qur’an made an indelible impression on my mind and heart and that has continued to guide and illuminate my life struggle in the way of Allah and the world.  

She was also a great storyteller and her favorite story was about Prophet Ibrahim and the Hajj. For us it was an imaginary trip to the faraway land of Arabia where people worshipped idols and cruel and ignorant tyrants ruled; a land where Allah (God) spoke to Prophets and revealed Himself to them through revelations and dialogue and imbued them with courage and moral strength to stand up to the rich and the powerful even at the risk of their own lives.  

It always ended with the reminder that at whatever point of our life we may experience hardships and extreme difficulties, we must always hold on to the patience and perseverance of Prophet Ibrahim by remembering that all challenges and difficulties are part of the human journey and that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. The experience of the Hajj reinforces the concept of spiritual self- renewal through religious rituals and offers hope through personal involvement in the physical world.  

Prophet Ibrahim like all the prophets was not a bystander, he was proactive and took control of the situation rather than allowing it to control him and instituted major changes both in the spiritual and the corporal life of his family and countless others. Through the lineage of the prophets we have been guided to understand the social and political dynamics that surround us. Through this understanding we are asked to take effective action in order to bring balance, justice, equality and peaceto our lives and those of every other person on this planet.  

What do we do when we look around us these days? We shudder in the shadows of Bush’s war on "terrorism" and are uncertain about what lies ahead of us. We shudder when we think of the children of today’s world, consumed by war, occupation, sanction, disease, abuse, neglect, and poverty. We shudder as we watch civil liberties disappear in all "democratic" and non-democratic countries of the world. Muslims unfortunately have a special place in the spotlight, receiving the brunt of a racist frontal assault by the American propaganda machine, driven by a half-a-dozen mega media conglomerates and neo-conservative movements. Muslims are being sold as the antithesis of that which is holy, good, and democratic.  

We shudder uncontrollably when we realize that Muslim nations, for more than 60 years, have been ruled by select elites who, instead of building close political, social and economic ties among themselves, chose to collude with foreign powers against each other to keep their people ignorant and indifferent to the sufferings of others. Compounded by their ignorance of Qur’anic teachings, they have willfully neglected to follow its guidance for establishing justice and human equality. The equality of all people was enshrined in the Qur’an (49:13) and women were declared to be equal with men (16:97) through being endowed with a fully fledged individual personality (2.30). Taking money from the rich and giving to the poor was mandatory as stated in several ayat (verses) of the Qur’an. Respect for human life and human dignity is fundamental to the faith.  

As we shudder,we might consider doing a little bit more. Shuddering, unfortunately, is just a useless physical movement that wastes energy and generates heat. It is now the time to connect to the prophets of the past and to realize that they didn’t shudder, they did things, they effected change. In Ibrahim’s dream, he saw that he was sacrificing his first-born son Ishmael. Belief and action were Ibrahim and Ishmael’s most powerful resources. Without faith Ibrahim and Ishmael would have never contemplated executing the command from Allah. Without action they would not have fulfilled the command. We learn that belief and action form the essence of Islam, and they are the fundamental building blocks of reform, and the fulfillment of our duty to Allah. You have believed the dream. We thus reward the righteous (37:105).  

Therefore, the purpose of hajj is not merely confined to worship of Allah for personal gains, as many Muslims believe that all will be forgiven and they will return as sinless as new-born babies. Human beings have been endowed with the power of thought, the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, Allah will judge the individual whether he/she has obeyed the code of conduct prescribed in the Qur’an. The Qur’an says, "We shall test your steadfastness with fear and famine, with loss of life and property and crops." And for those who have followed His commands, the Qur’an says "We shall not deny them their reward…"  

Everything in our material existence contains the Divine spark or spiritual energy. Muslims are specifically charged with a mission in the Qur’an to capture and elevate this energy to refine human thinking, behavior, and the physical world. The first thing Muslims should do in these difficult times is to truly live with the guidance of the Qur’an and by the examples of all the Prophets. By doing so, they can connect to Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ishmael’s belief and action.  

As for Ishmael, I have heard you say; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. (Genesis 17:20).  

Above all Muslims should not be passive bystanders waiting for something to happen, or for someone to bail them out of the mess they are in. By remembering the lineage of the prophets and the story of Ibrahim, and recognizing that nothing will change unless they change their own thinking and behavior, Muslims must forge ahead with determination derived from belief in a singular God, Allah, and a single message that they can prevail over the dark forces of ignorance, bigotry, greed, racism, and religious and ethnic hate.